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You've probably gotten (and given) plenty of gift cards as presents, but have you considered using them to save cash on your everyday purchases? Just like anything else, gift cards can go on sale — and that sale price means an immediate discount on anything you buy. And if you use your cheap gift cards to buy products that are on sale, you can multiply your savings for even better bargains.
Here's how you can use gift cards to pay less for almost anything.
The easiest source of gift cards is the retailers themselves, though that's rarely where you'll find the best deals. Around the holiday season, retailers may offer discounts on gift cards, bundle a small gift card with the purchase of a larger one, or include gift card deals with merchandise purchases. A better place to look for discounted cards the rest of the year is a warehouse club like BJ's Wholesale Club, Costco, and Sam's Club. These retailers always offer a selection of gift cards for under retail price.
That said, the best way by far to save on gift cards is to buy them from one of the many online gift card resellers. Here you'll find gift cards from most major retailers — from Target to Toys"R"Us — available at a variety of dollar values. Depending on what's available on the day you're shopping, deals could range from 1% off to 50% off.
A good place to shop is Gift Card Granny, which aggregates deals from different online sellers, so you can be sure you're getting the best price. Just type in the name of the store you'd like a gift card from to see available cards. Browse cards based on value, seller, savings, and more, then click on the card you want. Gift Card Granny will then send you on to the seller where you can buy the card.
When you buy from an online marketplace, you don't know exactly where your card came from. For any savvy online shopper, that probably rings alarm bells. How do you know that you aren't paying for a $50 gift card and getting a used card with no dollar value in return?
As with buying anything online, be sure you're shopping with a trustworthy source. Many gift card resellers have a reliable track record, such as GiftCards.com and Cardpool — both of which have a generous return policy and an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau. Gift Card Granny only aggregates cards from trustworthy sites that have return policies, easy access to customer support, and that sell gift cards from legitimate sources.
Several marketplaces guarantee purchases, but only for a certain amount of time (like a month), so be sure you'll use the credit by then. For this reason, we recommend you only by second-hand gift cards when you plan to spend them right away. Wherever you shop, read the store's policies — especially the return policy — before you buy.
While you'll be able to find deeper discounts when dealing with people selling gift cards directly, beware of Craigslist sales and similar one-on-one transactions. Without any kind of return policy, it's easy to get scammed.
Is it a physical card or a digital code? Physical cards will be sent to you in the mail; digital codes will be emailed to you immediately. The latter is preferable for avoiding scams, and if necessary, taking advantage of return policies in time.
Where can I use the gift card? You may only be able to redeem digital gift cards online.
What can I buy with the card? Some gift cards can't be used for certain types of purchases. For example, Best Buy gift cards can't be used online to buy other Best Buy gift cards. Be sure your gift card works for what you want to buy.
What does the fine print say? Some gift cards have fees or expiration dates — make sure yours doesn't.
Some resellers will make this info clear when you're shopping, but it's best to check directly with the store. You don't want to waste cash on a gift card that you can't use to buy what you want.
If you have a gift card you don't want, you can always resell it on these same sites. You'll often get around 80% of the card's face value, which is better than letting it languish in a desk drawer.
Readers, what are your own gift card savings tips? Let us know in the comments!